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Pain Relief Without Opioids

Pain Relief Without Opioids

In an effort to decrease opioid use and curb the current trend of opioid misuse, addiction, and overdose deaths, researchers at Rush University Medical Center have developed a strategy of implementing opioid-sparing multimodal analgesia (MMA) to manage pain in surgical patients. 

The results of their recent study suggest that using an alternative MMA regimen of the pain relievers oral acetaminophen and gabapentin, as well as intravenous acetaminophen during surgery, is safe and more effective than conventional pain relief treatments that include opioids. The results were published in the print issue of JAMA on Sept. 1. 

The need for such alternatives to opioids is great. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that prescription opioids continue to contribute to the opiod epidemic, accounting for more than 35% of all opioid overdose deaths. On average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

The study assessed the effectiveness of two pain management methods. A control group made up of 37 patients were treated with traditional analgesic methods – prescribed acetaminophen, hydrocodone-acetaminophen, and IV morphine on an as-needed escalating basis.  Another set of 28 patients were treated with the regimen of oral acetaminophen and gabapentin, as well as intraoperative intravenous acetaminophen. The majority of patients in both cohorts underwent surgery for resection of oral cavity cancer. 

“Postoperatively, patients received several non-narcotic pain medications targeting different pain pathways,” said Dr. Peter Revenaugh, assistant professor in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology, -Head and Neck Surgery and director of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Rush University Medical Center. “This proved to be effective in managing pain in the MMA set of patients.

“The patients receiving the MMA protocol received less opioids and reported improved pain management compared to the traditional group. Importantly, there was also a statistically significant reduction in the number of patients being discharged on opioid medications.” 

Using the Defense & Veterans Pain Rating Scale, average pain scores within the first 72 hours postoperatively were 2.05 in the MMA group and 3.66 in the control group.

Multiple Rush studies seek to minimize the use of opioids for post-surgical pain

The study presented in JAMA is one of many initiatives at Rush looking for alternatives to opioids for pain relief. These efforts have included studies using new treatments in anesthesiology, orthopedics, and neurology. 

An additional study at Rush has shown that patients who undergo a minimally invasive procedure called transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion may benefit from an MMA approach to pain management when compared to patient-controlled analgesia.

“This new pain management approach reduces narcotic use and minimizes hospitalization, making most minimally invasive spine surgeries outpatient procedures, which has a positive impact on patient satisfaction pain scores,” said Dr. Kern Singh, a professor in the Rush Department of Orthopedic Surgery and co-director of the Minimally Invasive Spine Institute at Rush=

Additionally, in total joint replacement surgical cases, researchers found that prescribing fewer oxycodone pills (an opioid pain reliever) is associated with a significant reduction in unused pills and decreased opioid consumption, with no increase in pain scores and no difference in patient-reported outcomes.

“We have published several articles in major peer reviewed journals touting the technique, which has drastically reduced opioid use” said Dr. Asokumar Buvanendran, professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at Rush.